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SFOS Journeys

Michael Castellini

Trip Report, University of British Columbia,
Zoology Department, Vancouver, Canada.
October 2009


  1. Invited trip to the University of British Columbia, Zoology Department, Vancouver, Canada. October 22-27, 2009.
  2. I was invited to UBC for two reasons.
  3. First, as an external examiner for Dr. Jeremy Goldbogen who was defending his PhD thesis on the hydrodynamics of large baleen whales (blue whales, fin whales, etc) when they are feeding.

    Why is this interesting? Because these large whales are very fast and streamlined swimmers, but when they open their mouths to gather in huge volume of seawater and krill, they come to an almost dead-stop in the water due to the drag of the extremely large volume of water that they engulf. Dr. Goldbogen's calculations show that they engulf a water volume that is actually larger than their body volume! They do this by having a massively expandable throat. This particular work used very complex 3D dive recorders and accelerometers to track and monitor the body motions during these "lunge-feeding" events. Dr. Goldbogen theorizes that the cost of such feeding is so intense that it puts a limit on the size of whales that can exist. He theorizes that a "mega whale" could not exist (2-3x that of blue whale) because the hydrodynamic cost of feeding would exceed the amount of krill that could be obtained.

    I was asked to be the external examiner because of the implications of underwater exercise and marine mammal diving physiology that is altered by having to work so hard to engulf such large volumes of water. The examination and defense went very well and was extremely well attended.

    In quite a different process than we have at SFOS, the PhD examination is a public event. So, the other students, faculty and guests are invited to remain for the entire questioning period of the student if they wish to stay. In talking with students who stayed, this was good because they could see what might be coming for their own defenses, but also induced some anxiety about having to do this themselves.

    The second reason for going to UBC was that I had been voted as the 2009-2010 William S. Hoar Memorial Speaker in Comparative Physiology at UBC. This is an award extremely similar to our own Irving-Scholander Award speaker series here at UAF. Activities for this event included a social reception on Sunday evening, Oct 25 and a full day of meetings, lunches, discussions and my primary seminar on Monday night. In the morning, I met with individual faculty members to tour their laboratories and meet their students; I attended a graduate student-run seminar (it had over 60 attendees); I had a lunch at the UBC Faculty Club with 4 senior graduate students and then met with another laboratory to talk with students and postdocs; another meeting with a beginning MSc class that dealt with research ethics and also provided a student-run seminar on one of my papers; then the evening memorial seminar which was attended by about 90-100 people, including the daughter and son-in-law of William Hoar. I had a dinner that evening with the selection committee.

    In another context, I was a postdoctoral fellow at UBC from 1982-1986 in the same department and many of the faculty that I met were previous colleagues or students of past colleagues.

  4. Benefit to SFOS.
  5. Throughout my visit, the role of UAF SFOS in my career development and our current research and teaching efforts were always under discussion with department faculty, administrators, postdoctoral students and the graduate students. The SFOS name was featured prominently in my visit and I must have given out over 2 dozen business cards.

    In addition, UAF is a member of the Marine Mammal Research Consortium with UBC as another member and I had tours of the Steller sea lion research operations both at Port Moody (outside of UBC about 10 miles) and at the facility at the Vancouver Aquarium. I have worked with these researchers for over 15 yr on Steller sea lions and this was an opportunity to get updated on their recent projects.

  6. Other considerations.
  7. The trip was a tremendous success and very similar to the frenzy of a job search, except without the stress! The seminar was great success, I met new students who were very interested in how my work developed over the years, I met students who want me to review some of their research interests and I was able to visit with faculty that I used to work with many years ago.